Select Committee on Defence First Report

Possible areas of concern

24. Concern expressed during the deliberations of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill in relation to the proposed extension of MDP jurisdiction focussed on the likelihood of the changes proposed in the Bill bringing MDP officers into more frequent contact with the general public. This was regarded by some commentators[48] as undesirable for a number of reasons, including:

    (a)  the differences in accountability of the MDP compared with local police forces;

    (b)  the gradual increase in the MDP's powers beyond what was envisaged in the 1987 Act and the danger that the MDP might become a national police force;

    (c)  possible confusion of responsibilities between the MDP and local police forces;

    (d)  the more frequent carrying of firearms by MDP officers;

    (e)  lack of experience of MDP officers in dealing with members of the public.

We have examined these possible concerns in the context of the current Bill.


MoD Police Committee

25. The question of MDP accountability is an important one. Each Home Department police force has a police authority with a membership of local councillors, magistrates and independent members, which has a statutory responsibility for securing the maintenance of an efficient and effective police force for its area. Police authorities have a legal responsibility, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, to consult the general public. All Home Department forces have therefore established police community consultative groups and, although these take different forms and have different names, they all hold regular public meetings and fulfil a function in providing public accountability.

26. In contrast, MDP structures are all contained within the Ministry of Defence. The MDP is accountable to the Secretary of State as an MoD agency but day to day responsibility is delegated to the Second Permanent Under Secretary, who is the owner of the Agency and who chairs the Ministry of Defence Police Committee. The membership of the MoD Police Committee was changed earlier this year to include three independent members, in addition to senior Service and police personnel and MoD officials. The independent members are: a representative of defence trade unions; a representative of defence families organisations; and an independent member with no defence or police connections.[49]

27. The Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill concluded that a perceived lack of public accountability in the MDP's structures was a negative and singular feature which set it apart from other civilian police forces and that, though it may be possible to justify this if the MDP's activities are solely concerned with defence personnel and property, if the MDP is to come into more frequent contact with the general public, this should be accompanied by a form of external accountability comparable to the role performed by police authorities and police consultative committees in Home Department police forces. The Committee recommended that the membership of the MDP Committee should be reviewed and amended so that at least a third were drawn from outside the civil service, the police service, and the Armed Forces.[50]

28. The Head of MDP Secretariat told us that one of the functions of the current quinquennial review of the MDP would be to look at the 'role, membership and functions' of the MoD Police Committee.[51] We would hope that that process will result in further changes in the composition of the MoD Police Committee which will better reflect the broadening of the MDP's role and, in particular, the increased contact with the general public which is likely to result from the Bill's proposals. During Committee stage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the Minister agreed that 'greater accountability should go with wider powers' and said that 'everything that can be done to improve the accountability of the MDP police force will be done'. He raised the possibility of the MoD Police Committee holding its meetings in public, which the Chief Constable of the force supports.[52] We accept the argument that greater powers for the MDP must be accompanied by greater accountability. We intend to monitor developments to ensure that Ministers' undertakings in this respect are followed through.


29. The MDP's Annual Report states that—

The level of public satisfaction with the performance of the Force is indicated, in part at least, by the number and type of complaints made and the manner in which such complaints are dealt with.[53]

The MDP has its own Complaints and Discipline Department which in the last reporting year for which figures are available investigated 54 complaints. This is about a tenth of the normal number of complaints for a Home Department force of comparable size: the MDP accepts that this is largely because the MDP deals with 'a more restricted public ... in a more restricted number of situations'. But it is worth noting that, even though the MDP's contact with the public is increasing, the number of complaints shows a downward trend.[54] Internal discipline investigations are also undertaken where there are grounds for suspecting an officer has not carried out his duty properly. 119 formal investigations were carried out in the last reporting year, which also reflects a decreasing trend; the largest category of incident is police vehicle accidents.[55]

30. The MDP states that its complaints and discipline regulations are subject, where appropriate, to 'external and independent supervision by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Procurators Fiscal and the independent Police Complaints Authority'.[56] In addition, the Force's response to complaints from the public, and its discipline reports, are inspected on a quarterly basis by the police adviser to the MoD Police Committee, who is HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary. The Assistant Chief Constable believed that, in this respect, the MDP's procedures were more rigorously reviewed than those of other forces.[57]

31. However, it is MDP's relationship with the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) which has aroused most concern.[58] This relationship is more complicated than for Home Department police forces. An agreement between the Defence Council and the Police Complaints Authority established arrangements set out in the Ministry of Defence Police (Discipline) Regulations 1985. When the MDP Act 1987 came into force, a further agreement was signed between the Secretary of State and the PCA in June 1988, resulting in the MDP (Discipline) (Amendment) Regulations 1988. These complaints and discipline regulations correspond to those in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 for Home Department police forces. The MoD said in response to a Parliamentary Question in March that—

The MDP regulations mirrored those of the Home Department forces until the Home Department forces regulations changed in April 1999 ... The proposals in Clause 32 of the [present] Armed Forces Bill are designed to enable parity to be restored.[59]

But those proposals failed to become law. At present the Secretary of State has the power to dismiss a member of the MDP but has no power to transfer the function of imposing penalties to an outside body, in contrast to local police forces where a key element of the disciplinary process is that officers or others from outside the force concerned take such decisions. The effect of Clause 32 would have been to give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations establishing disciplinary procedures for the MDP which would have included provision to allow disciplinary decisions to be made by persons outside the MoD and the MDP, so that their procedures were equivalent to those governing local police forces.[60]

32. The Home Secretary said, in the Second Reading debate on the Anti-Terrorism Bill, that: 'it is right and proper that in the police reform legislation that we will introduce next year, we ensure that the normal powers for police complaints will be available.' The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, MoD (Dr Moonie), referred during Committee stage to provisions originally in the Armed Forces Bill to put MDP discipline 'on to a statutory footing and to allow important decisions on discipline ... to be taken on just the same basis as for Home Department forces' and confirmed that it was the Government's intention to include equivalent provisions in the police reform Bill.[61]

33. The Head of the MDP Secretariat expanded on the position regarding complaints against the MDP in evidence—

They are dealt with by the Police Complaints Authority in exactly the same circumstances as they would be if they were made against an officer of the home department force. The legal route by which you get there is slightly different but the procedure is just the same.[62]

34. We welcome the assurance that new legislation will be introduced to address this apparent anomaly. We would have preferred the legislation to reform the current complaints procedure to have been in place at the same time as the new powers are conferred on the MDP but, given the urgency to introduce measures to combat terrorism, we do not believe that, at this stage, this should stand in the way of the passage of the provisions of the present Bill. However, we would expect the police reform legislation to be brought forward as a matter of priority early in the New Year.


35. The MDP has been the subject of inquiry and examination many times in its history. Indeed, a predecessor Defence Committee commented—

There can have been few areas of policy that have been subjected to more scrutiny than policing and guarding within the MoD, particularly the MDP'.[63]

In addition to a number of inquiries carried out by the Defence Committee referred to above,[64] the Ministry of Defence has itself conducted several reviews of the MDP. The most recent of these include: The Defence Police and Guarding Structures Study; The Defence Guarding and Police Manpower Review; and Employment of the MoD Police in the Royal Ordnance Factories; all published in 1995 and all of which were examined by our predecessors.[65] As an MoD agency, it is subject to Quinquennial Reviews, as we have described (see paragraph 10); and further studies are carried out by the MoD Department of Internal Audit. Legislation brought forward affecting the MDP provides another opportunity for scrutiny, as most recently demonstrated by the work of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, and in this Report.

36. Regular, formal inspection of the MDP is carried out by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary about every five years[66] and we were told that an inspection was under way at the time of our inquiry.[67] However, such inspections currently take place by invitation rather than having the statutory basis which applies to local police forces.[68] During the consideration of the Armed Forces Bill, the Secretary of State indicated to the Select Committee that he would consider putting inspections on the same footing as other civilian police forces,[69] and the Bill was in fact amended during Committee stage in the Commons to this effect.[70] In the event, as the relevant Clauses were subsequently withdrawn from the Bill during consideration in the Lords, this amendment fell and no change was made in the inspection arrangements. The Head of the MDP Secretariat indicated that the necessary legislative change would be made 'very shortly' and we were glad to hear the Minister confirm this during Committee stage.[71] We believe that inspections of the MDP by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary should be carried out on a statutory basis and expect to see provisions to this effect in the police reform legislation which the Government has indicated will be introduced in the new year.

48  See, for example, evidence from National Union of Journalists, HC 154-II, Session 2000-01, op cit, QQ 807-848 and Ev pp 107-108; and from other witnesses, Ev pp 229-231, 247, 255-261, 263-266, and 269  Back

49  Q 56; HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 40 Back

50  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraphs 41-42 Back

51  Q 57 Back

52  HC Deb, 26 November 2001, c 779 Back

53  HC 609, Session 1999-2000, op cit, p 10 Back

54  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, para 51; HC 609, Session 1999-2000, op cit, p 10 Back

55  HC 609, Session 1999-2000, op cit, p 10 Back

56  ibid Back

57  Q 55 Back

58  See, for example, Second Reading of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, HC Deb, 19 November 2001, c 79; Committee Stage, HC Deb, 26 November, c 770 Back

59  HC Deb, 22 March 2001, c 298-299w Back

60  Explanatory Notes to the Armed Forces Bill, paragraphs 115-117. See also Ev p 26. Back

61  HC Deb, 19 November 2001, c 37 and 26 November 2001, cc 779-780; see also Q 16 Back

62  Q 53 Back

63  Eighth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1995-96, HC 189, op cit, para 6 Back

64  These are: Second Report, Session 1983-84, The Physical Security of Military Installations in the United Kingdom , HC 397-I; Second Report, Session 1984-85, Security at Royal Ordnance Factories and Nuclear Bases, HC 217; Sixth Report, Session 1989-90, Physical Security at Military Installations, HC 171; Eighth Report, Session 1995-96, Ministry of Defence Police and Guarding, HC 189 Back

65  See HC 189, Session 1995-96, op cit Back

66  The last inspection was in 1997/98. See 1997/98 Inspection, Ministry of Defence Police: A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary Back

67  Q 51 Back

68  HC Deb, 26 November 2001, c 779 Back

69  HC 154-I, Session 2000-01, op cit, paragraph 42 Back

70  See HC Deb, 2 April 2001, cc 121-122 Back

71  Q 49; HC Deb, 26 November 2001, c 779 Back

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